My life was better before The Hills. Up until now, I lived in a sweet, ignorant utopia, completely unaware that some aspects of the '00s were secretly rubbish. I didn’t feel enraged by the decade-old behaviour of strangers I wasn’t previously invested in. I didn’t question everything I thought I knew about this formative period of pop culture. But now, my rose-tinted memory of a happier, wholesome time is ruined.
I don’t know if you heard, but The Hills is coming back. It’s the latest series to emerge from television's nostalgia-fuelled cash cow for an unwarranted reboot. When the announcement was made, shortly after some of the cast were spotted at the VMAs, I honestly didn’t give a damn. "Ha! Who cares about The Hills?" I scoffed. "How awkward for them."
How awkward for me, it seems. When I revealed to the R29 office that I have never, ever watched an episode of The Hills, I was met with blank stares and confused laughter. And so I was swiftly instructed to watch it now, more than 12 years after the first season was broadcast onto our immobile screens, without any real knowledge of what I was getting myself into.
It takes me a long time to register that this is what reality TV looked like in the 2000s – awkwardly paced and unhelpfully narrated. My assimilation into their LA lifestyle isn't helped when the opening voiceover references something called Laguna Beach (which I obviously haven't watched either). So I hit pause, google Laguna Beach, note that this is the only tangible reason for Lauren's very vague introduction to the series and, even less enthused, settle back down to watch.
Much like E4’s Made In Chelsea, for which I’m assuming The Hills is the blueprint, we’ve got some wealthy teenagers living their confusingly glossy lives. Immediately, I feel shit about my subpar 19-year-old life which sadly did not involve working at Teen Vogue (erm, wtf?), living in a gated apartment block with my best friend (sorry, what?) and going clubbing without being chastised for underage drinking (was that legit okay to be filmed?). There's something really frustrating about misplaced jealousy. I know I shouldn't care that these people lived an annoyingly "cool" – however unrealistically portrayed – lifestyle more than 10 years ago. But I still want it. And so I feel worse about it. This, ladies and gents, is what I imagine our Instagram feeds would have looked like had the app launched six or seven years earlier. What a narrow escape we made...
It isn't long before the bittersweet memory of low-rise jeans and chunky studded J-Lo belts is overshadowed by the subpar men that Lauren and Heidi date. My contemporary knowledge of their world starts and ends with the fact that Heidi and Spencer are a thing people refer to every now and again. So when I'm introduced to Jordan as Heidi's boyfriend in the first episode I'm legitimately on edge, purely because "Heidi and Jordan" really doesn't sound right. My discomfort is only magnified when I see how the dynamic of their relationship plays out.
Over the course of those 10 episodes we learn that Heidi and Jordan argue a lot. Against the disarmingly familiar soundtrack of Wheatus, Good Charlotte and Dido, the pair bicker about things I'm pretty sure we're not meant to understand. But alarm bells start ringing when Heidi tries to tell Jordan that the way he speaks to her (aggressively, patronisingly, disrespectfully) is upsetting, and his justification is that it's just him being "passionate" and it's fine because he talks to her that way all the time. He's almost too quick to dismiss the fact that his behaviour is an issue, and blames Heidi's lack of understanding for their fall-out. Needless to say, it's neither nice nor okay. There's no real resolution (at least, not that we see in the show) and this very early introduction to clueless men treating women like shit leaves me with a really bad taste in my mouth. Granted, the world has moved on and social media has dramatically changed the way we talk about this sort of thing, but my stomach still lurches at the way Twitter would have responded to Jordan's dickheadery had those scenes aired today.
Fast-forward to the second season (yes, okay, I got invested but only because Lauren chose Jason over a Vogue internship in Paris and I really wanted her to redeem that stupid, stupid decision) and Spencer is finally on the scene. "So this is where it all begins," I muse, smug about bearing witness to this famed relationship in action. And then I realise that Spencer is vile. Do people know? Because people should really know that Heidi and Spencer's not-so-humble beginning is straight out of the gaslighting playbook.
Spencer is dating Heidi and Audrina at the same time. Heidi is really into him and suspicious of why he and Audrina are hanging out. He tells Heidi "that girl is crazy" in his denial of having anything to do with her. He invites Audrina to his favourite restaurant after taking Heidi there the night before. Spencer insists to Heidi that he's falling for her moments before calling Audrina to proposition her, all the while proactively tearing apart their friendship and convincing Heidi that she'd be ridiculous to doubt his shady intentions. It's disgusting. It's an awful precedent that was by no means new at the time of airing, but will have set a terrible example of what to expect from young men in pursuit of young women.
My stomach lurches at the way Twitter would have responded to Jordan's dickheadery had those scenes aired today.
PSA: if someone truly respects you, they won't treat you that way. And sure, people change and grow and I'm sure that after all these years, Heidi and Spencer are chill and happy now... whatever. But a two-episode insight into Spencer's disgusting treatment of these young women is enough for me to give up and turn off. It might've flown in 2007 but it certainly goes against the grain in 2018. Nothing like delayed outrage to refuel your intolerance of toxic male dating rituals, eh?
It's safe to say that watching The Hills halted my nostalgia for the '00s, and right now I feel pretty resentful. The hilarity of babydoll cami tops and boys legitimately accessorising with dog tags isn't quite enough to distract from how relieved I am that we now live in a different world, where shoddy behaviour is (increasingly) readily called out. We're unlearning this weird idea that it's totally normal for a guy to pursue you until you give in and hook up with him despite your better judgement. That having multiple girls on the go and not only lying about it but actively convincing them that the problem is theirs and not yours makes you a "player", when really it makes you a shit person.
My late, short-lived introduction to The Hills felt super uncomfortable. But being very aware of how much we've progressed and how much less society is willing to tolerate in this arena, my only hope is that the incoming reunion series is better reflective of the time we're living in, because right now I don't feel very good about what we were taught in 2006/7.
The Hills: New Beginnings starts on MTV on Tuesday 25th June at 8pm